I know what you watched sixteen summers ago.
Okay, it actually came out in October of 1997. But I Know What You Did Last Summer, a horror movie set on the Fourth of July, was a big hit, obviously. It was the follow-up from Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson, the generation's bloodletting John Hughes who ushered in a teen slasher boom. And it starred a quartet of A-list glossy mag pinups: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Ryan Phillippe are four American Eagle models from a small seaport town who accidentally hit and kill a man on a post-fireworks joy ride. Exactly one year later, they receive threatening notes and are stalked, one by one, by a hook-wielding psycho in a fisherman's slicker. Plus there's running and screaming and a soundtrack AVAILABLE NOW! at the Sam Goody next to the Orange Julius kiosk. ("Let's go! Pick me up after Yearbook?")
An annual viewing of I Know What You Did Last Summer is my Fourth tradition, because if there are two things I love it's purple mountains majesty and slasher movies. (Sometimes I even follow it with the fun and schlocky sequel, I Still Know…) Every year, the era of teenagedom it embodies seems a little further behind in the rearview. So I thought I'd jot down the 9 Things I Learned About the '90s.
WE MADE A LOT OF EYE CONTACT. There's a scene in the beginning of I Know when all the friends are sitting around a campfire, telling scary stories. It's only a minute-and-a-half scene, but it feels really long. They're talking, and looking at each other, and it feels really drawn out. Oh my god, I realize, no one has checked a cell phone. What is this ancient tradition? I don't remember the last time I've sat in a conversation and felt like everyone was actually listening and looking at the person talking all at the same time. And why would we ever want that to happen? That's so uncomfortable. Why would I tell all you faces what I'm thinking when I could just tell it TO THE INTERNET.
TO BE FAIR, THOUGH, HONESTLY, CELL PHONES ARE KIND OF HELPFUL. Okay, okay. It's easy to rhapsodize about the days when we weren't all anchored with cell phones, which is becoming the 90s generation's version of grandpa's story about a movie reel and a wooden nickel. But seriously, can you imagine if these kids had cell phones? None of this would have had to happen. When one of the girls is running down an alley, trying to escape from the crazy fisherman, the other girl who can't find her in time could have just texted her with, "I figured out who it is and it's OK now, we can maybe go tell the cops." And she could just text back "LOL K."
RICH PEOPLE ARE JUST NO GOOD. Has anyone ever gone to a school with a nice prom queen? I'm sure this must have happened at some point, but I think most of us just assume our prom queen was a huge bitch because, well, you didn't really see them played any other way, did you? She's always some drag queen shoving girls' faces away with her nails and talking into her cool cell phone that she has just a little bit earlier than every other girl she hangs out with. In I Know, Gellar is the local pageant queen, the top of the teen socioeconomic food chain (she even gets a freaking crown), and Phillippe is her arrogant quarterback boyfriend who lives in a 90s rich person house. (Not Fresh of Prince of Bel Air level rich. But like, seems up there.) They are the slightly less moral ones who die first. The townie fisherman and the girl who lives in a plain house live and prosper. It's America, Dream Big!
ACCESSORIZING WAS "IN." Dog tags. Chokers. Thumb rings. Layered strands of leather necklaces adorned with charms. Arm cuffs. It's like a Claire's store exploded and covered everyone in ten pounds of chain mail that somehow still doesn't cost more than one week's allowance.
SCHOOL PICTURE DAY SMELLED BAD. Sometime around Clinton's second blowjob, a memo went out to movie marketing execs that there was only one focus group-certified way to pose your teen horror (or, as it was filed in the more dignified Blockbusters, "suspense-thriller") stars for the movie posters and accompanying VHS artwork. They must be assembled like a slightly convex mug shot lineup, narrowed eyes glancing stage left, mouth agape, cleavage (if you got it) a'showing. Teen stars got a lot of flack then for being "sexy," but it wasn't really sex they were selling: it was themselves. Being an actor's fine and good, but now you had to be a raised-on-Crawford era model and merchandiser too.
THERE ARE SOUTHERN PEOPLE AND THERE ARE "SOUTHERN" PEOPLE. All these people are from North Carolina. They all live in the same place. Only the killer has a southern accent. What, did it skip a block? What are you trying to say here, Hollywood, because I've seen enough movies like this to know that the only one that talks with a drawl is the gas station attendant with a glass eye who warns 'em to git, if they know what's good fer 'em. All the gross and evil people sound southern, even though all the kids who live in the same town are clean and neatly pressed and talk with the elocution of Connecticut newscasters.
SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR WAS A QUEEN. Because she was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar was rewarded with the best chase scene in '90s, nay, modern teen slasher cinema and yes, I'm aware what a bold and provocative statement I am making. Running around in a tiara and a metallic pageant dress, you know, like you do, Gellar's character kicks, hits and cries through terror-smudged mascara in a chase scene riddled with Amazing Race challenges. This was epic, high drama bestowed on her because of It Girl status. We respected such traditions. Selena Gomez could never do this. Queen.
THAT GETTING YOUR BAND ON A SOUNDTRACK WAS A REALLY BIG DEAL. 1997: "Wow, I really like this song playing in the background. I'll just wear out this VHS tape trying to hear the words. Let me search them on AOL. Crap. Okay, I'll try it in quotes. Got it. Let me try eight Strawberries to find their CD. I wonder if they have a website?" 2013: "Shazam. Purchase."
THAT WE WOULD MISS THIS, YOU GUYS! That's the moral of the story, cause we're all around the same age. I love you too. Group hug. Never change.
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